Monday, December 3, 2012

Roads are for cars, Streets are for everyone

*If you haven't had the chance yet, I hope that you will consider watching my presentation last week. I spoke for about 15 minutes and the discussion afterward was about 45 minutes. I greatly appreciate the invitation and time there, and look forward to having more conversations with the city soon. Topics were wide and varied, so I will be responding to the issues we discussed over the next week or two.

Thanks to those who have watched, and have been encouraging. I know some people were disappointed by some of the city council comments made, but these are tough issues, and we are at a disadvantage when arguing from an outsiders perspective. We need to be strong, patient, persistent, and even a little tenacious as we make our case, while still being respectful.

During my presentation I repeatedly said one of the issues Mound faces is that it has streets that are built for cars to go fast. While the council talked about this, they repeatedly stated that "roads are for cars". I didn't want to argue terminology, so I didn't attempt to correct it then, but I wanted to dispute this notion in my first response today.

As we've talked about before, there it's a difference between streets and roads. Roads are for connecting places. There is little value on a road, as it usually is passed by. Streets are a place where we live and conduct business. A street captures and adds value to places that surrounds it.
Unfortunately our cities have been built with streets that try to act like roads and encouraging cars to go fast. This not only hurts neighborhoods, they can kill people.

Mound needs to think carefully when they rebuild their MSA streets the next few years. Mound wants streets that are people friendly and where bicyclists and pedestrians can exist along cars driven at a people safe speed. We need to build streets for the next 30 years, not the last 30.

Mound needs to build streets for everyone, not just cars.

After my presentation, one issue the city council brought up was the suggestion that slowing traffic would create congestion. They continued that if there was congestion, then people would choose not to live in and do business in Mound.

Slowing down cars in our neighborhoods is not creating congestion. It would, in fact, would add value to neighborhoods.

We build these big, wide, MSA streets to move cars quickly and efficiently. In Mound, they help people move from the County Rd to their neighborhood street. For people in my neighborhood, we use Bartlett Blvd for this task. See the chart below to see the travel times.

Travel time on Bartlett Blvd from Shoreline to Avon Dr.
25MPH - 48 seconds (+8)
30MPH - 40 seconds (+6)(posted speed limit)
35MPH - 34 seconds

Bartlett Blvd from Shoreline Dr to Avon Dr, a MSA street.

People in my neighborhood can drive faster on Bartlett, and cut 6-8 seconds off their travel time thanks to MSA streets. Are those seconds really worth having if it degrades the neighborhood I drive through?

Let us look at another neighborhood. These times are for someone driving on another MSA street, Tuxedo from Skelly's, past Al and Alma's to Seabury Rd. I'm uncertain what the posted speed limit is on Tuxedo... seems to me it might be 35, so I included 40MPH.

25MPR - 245 seconds - 4 min 15 sec (+41)
30MPR - 204 seconds - 3 min 29 sec (+29)(posted speed limit?)
35MPR - 175 seconds - 2 min 55 sec (+22)(posted speed limit?)
40MPR - 153 seconds - 2 min 33 sec

Tuxedo Blvd from Seabury Rd to Wilshire Blvd, a MSA street.

Building a street where cars can drive 5 MPH less and share the road with people and bicycles could cost the residents of Seabury Rd. 22-41 seconds. Is that congestion? Would someone choose to live someplace else because because their drive to their home is 30 seconds less?

This all comes back to our neighborhoods, and the places people live. What are we, as a city, telling the neighborhoods of Bartlett Blvd and Tuxedo Blvd when we encourage fast cars by their homes?

Look closely at the neighborhoods you drive though the next time you go through. Do you see people? Are the houses there built close to the street, or far away? Do children play in the yard? How would you feel if your child was trying to play there, learn to ride their bike, or go to play at their friends house across the street. Are you comfortable with that?

These results from a study done on three similar streets with different levels of traffic. What value does a city place on a neighborhood when it allows cars to go fast through it? How does a neighborhood value it?

Do we, as a city, feel it's acceptable to hurt the Bartlett,Tuxedo and other neighborhoods, so others who choose to live further off a County Rd, can shave seconds off their commute?

I will contend that there are many of reasons why people choose to live in Mound, and hardly any of them would be because of their fast, wide streets. These streets were built this way because traffic engineers are so focused on moving cars that people are just afterthoughts in their equations. Going 5MPH slower on a neighborhood street is not congestion, and in fact, should be encouraged so everyone who lives in Mound can have a great neighborhood.


  1. Hey, just found your blog through Strong Towns.

    Do you know how wide the streets and roads in Mound are exactly?

    The Toronto suburb I grew up in (Oakville) might be a decent model for Mound. Like in Mound, most people drive to work and to shop, and it is a low density town. However, you can walk safely wherever you want, so a lot of people will walk for leisure, and a decent number of kids walk to school.

    This can be realistically achieved by a town like Mound, which will probably never become a dense walkable places like Chicago.

    Back to street widths, the side streets in my neighbourhood can get pretty narrow, about 20-25ft wide, with no sidewalks, for example
    Narrower side street:
    Wider side street:
    They have very light traffic, only used by local residents, so sidewalks aren't needed, most of my neighbours let their kids play on the street without supervision from age 8 or so, and this is a middle to upper class area, so parents are pretty safety conscious. The street is pretty popular for street hockey, basketball, biking, etc.

    Our equivalent to streets like Bartlett or Tuxedo, which are what I'd call collector streets, have sidewalks (often only on one side of the street though). The carriageway is just as narrow as the side streets, maybe even a bit narrower since they have no on-street parking. Despite that, when these streets are very straight, the city feels that encourages drivers to go too fast, so on one street they lowered the speed limit to 25mph, and on the other, they added speed bumps. In both cases, there's also a lot of stop signs.
    Here's one of them:

    Although many pedestrian improvements (sidewalks, bollards, street trees, etc) come at an additional cost, narrower side streets is one improvement that's actually cheaper. Oakville could certainly afford to make its side streets wider, and there's space with the large setbacks homes have, but no-one seems to find that desirable.

    Speed limits in Oakville, and in Ontario in general are 37mph for suburban arterial roads, at most 31mph for main streets and residential streets, including collector streets, and 25mph for school zones and some residential streets.

    These aren't followed that well, I think it's true most people drive at the speed they feel comfortable rather than the posted speed limit (especially since you rarely get fined for going <10mph over the limit here)... I would say that for large suburban arterials, people drive at 44mph, for minor arterials, they drive at 37mph, for collector streets, they drive at 31mph and for side streets, they drive at 25-30mph.

    In newer neighbourhoods (the one I described is about 50 years old), streets are wider, which I think is unfortunate, but at least most streets have sidewalks.

    For arterials and main streets, the street design here usually involves some sort of buffering, either large grass medians, or parked cars, or street furniture.

    Suburban Arterial:
    Main Street (Bronte), people drive around 35mph here:

    Another main street (Kerr), people drive around 25mph here, you can see it's more of a tight space:

    Another main street, people often drive at only 20mph since the street can be quite busy, and people know they have to be careful about pedestrians crossing the street, people coming out of parking spots, etc:

    The last example is a really popular walking street, it might be a bit of a long shot for Mound, but Mound I don't think something like Kerr Street is unrealistic, and that's still a quite pedestrian friendly street.

  2. Also, here's a major county road that connects my college town to the beaches of Lake Huron. Despite being the most important road for about 20 miles, it is significantly tamed when it goes through the town of Listowel. Same is true for the other major county road passing through town. There's only 2 lanes for traffic, with on street parking on both sides, lots of street furniture and relatively wide sidewalks.

    I think it would be good for Commerce Blvd in Mound to go in that direction. It might slow down travel times by a few seconds, but I don't think it would cause traffic to use another road (what other road?). If doing this would slow down cars a little, I think businesses would benefit because traffic volumes would be the same, but drivers would go slower (more likely to notice the businesses), would be able to park more easily (on the street), and would get more pedestrians (more likely to stop to shop).

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